Chapter 50 – Metamorphosis V
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, the larger DC comics universe that I am drawing elements from, or any of the Mythology that I am about to mangle to suit my own twisted purposes. Frankly, if you recognize it, I don’t own it. This work may not be sold or used for profit in any way shape or form for that very reason. Please don’t sue me because I don’t have anything worth taking…
Author’s Notes: Sorry this update took so long to get posted. I’ve had it ready since the end of last week and had intended to post it Saturday morning… except that sometime either late Friday night or in the wee hours of said Saturday morning my cable modem decided to stop working. There’s one more update in the queue, which is the conclusion to this arc and should be up Thursday or Friday, then things may be a little erratic for a couple of weeks since things are picking up at work and I’ll have to find a new routine to balance work against writing and my other hobbies.
-== Chapter Fifty – Metamorphosis V ==-
Chloe stepped down on the brakes hard, jerking the car to a wrenching halt. Just ahead of her, standing in the Kents’ driveway was the battered form a nightmarish insectile monster. The creature fixed the car’s occupants with look that could only be categorized as a mixture of fear and frustration as he stood motionless for a long moment.
“Oh my god, Xander!” Willow’s sudden panicked exclamation caused Chloe to whip her head around to face the direction the redhead was looking.
Xander, or rather Thor, was staggering across the short distance from the field to the driveway, pursuing the insectile monster as though his very life depended on it. The thick, hardened Asgardian leather of his armor was torn and tattered, revealing the bruised and bleeding skin beneath it. Whatever the creature was, it had managed to hurt Xander badly from the looks of it.
Chloe snapped her attention back to the monster, only to find that it had disappeared during her momentary distraction. The sound of heavy wooden rails snapping like twigs spurred her into motion and she threw open the door of her car, which responded with a metallic groan of protest, and raced to Xander’s side. The teenager lay slumped over on his side, with his mighty hammer lying just out of reach.
Throwing themselves to their knees beside Xander’s prone form, the two girls pulled him onto his back, removed his helm and settled him with his head pillowed in Chloe’s lap. His eyes were staring fixedly and he was utterly motionless save for the steady, rhythmic rise and fall of his chest.
“Xander, oh god… Xander, what happened?” Willow practically shouted in her rising panic.
“Xander,” Chloe said, forcing her voice to remain as calm as she could manage. Even so, her voice cracked and threatened to break. “Xander, talk to us… You’ve got to tell us what happened. Did that monster do this?” She ignored the fast approaching footsteps of Martha and Jonathan and the sound of the vehicle she had heard turn off the asphalt and onto the unpaved dirt of the driveway, focusing solely on Xander.
After a moment, his lips moved and he whispered harshly, “Midori… in the loft,” every word sounded as though it were a tremendous struggle to utter. “Greg… Arkin is… monster.”
The terrible sound of the silence that seemed to engulf her was lost in the realization of what Xander was telling her. The thing that had done this to him had attacked both Xander and Midori. If the Green Lantern was in the loft rather than out here or pursuing the creature, then she too must be gravely injured.
“Chloe! Willow!” Clark’s shouts pierced the veil that seemed to have fallen over Chloe’s senses and forced her back to the moment at hand.
“Clark,” she shouted back without turning to look at her friend. “Xander said Midori’s in the loft. I think she’s hurt too!” A whoosh of displaced air told her more effectively than words that he was checking on the other girl. Her eyes suddenly fell on the deep stab wound in the left side of Xander’s abdomen and the thin trickle of blood flowing from it.
Before she could even begin to make sense of what was going on, Chloe saw Willow reach out and place a hand on Xander’s brow before abruptly recoiling in horror.
“Oh god, Chloe,” the redhead’s voice was tight, as though she were fighting a feeling of pure revulsion. “He’s conscious in there and in so much pain…”
A soft thump of feet landing beside her announced Clark’s return as he flew down from the loft with an unconscious Midori cradled in his arms. “She’s alive, but something stabbed her in the arm pretty deep. There’s not much blood, but she’s completely unresponsive, I think she might be in shock. I think we need to get them both to the hospital…” The boy looked at his mother and father pointedly, “Call an ambulance, quick.”
“I really wouldn’t do that if I were you,” an unfamiliar male voice with a heavy Brooklyn accent said from over near the front of Chloe’s car. “Unless you want them both to die, that is…”
Instantly, all three of the teens and both of the adult members of the Kent family turned their eyes toward the speaker. The man was short and had an ugly, almost rat-like face despite the fact that he looked to be human. He was dressed like a bad-cliché from seventies mafia movie, wearing a loud shirt, polyester slacks, and a leather blazer with a short brimmed, round hat. Whoever he was, he was leaning against the side of Chloe’s Volvo wagon with both hands jammed in his trouser pockets and a smug look on his face.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Clark snapped before anyone else could speak.
The man regarded Clark with an odd expression for a long moment, as though the teen were something unexpected. “Name’s Whistler,” he answered after his momentary hesitation, “and it’s not really a matter of what I want. It’s about what I can offer you.”
“You’re a demon,” Willow declared bluntly, rising from where she’d been kneeling next to Xander to a standing position in a single, smooth movement and positioning herself between the fallen god and Whistler.
“A balance demon,” the man agreed, looking at the redhead. “You must be Willow. You know… you were on track to become one of the most powerful witches to ever live, until the god-ling there went and mucked everything up.” He gestured vaguely at Xander as he spoke.
“Lemme guess, you must work for the Powers that can bite my ass,” Chloe snarked angrily as she used her telekinetic abilities to slip out from under Xander and stand up beside Willow. “Why should we trust anything you say?”
“Ewww, that’s not a very friendly welcome. You must be Chloe… the reporter,” he replied without any emotion in his words. “Yes, I work for the Powers that Be and you don’t have to trust me, you just have to listen. Your boy Xander has made a serious mess of things, and if the creature that did this too him isn’t stopped before it turns some poor girl into a Queen and starts to reproduce… it’s game over for the whole human race.”
“So we stop it, that still doesn’t explain why you’re here or why we shouldn’t take Xander and Midori to the hospital,” Clark countered, his voice hard. “Besides, your bosses already tried to eliminate Xander once, how do we know you aren’t responsible for this?”
“You’ve got spunk, kid,” the demon said with a grin. “The Powers are real big on following the rules, probably because they made most of the rules, and those rules say they can’t take direct action you five. Is that answer enough for why we aren’t responsible for this? How about this then: the creature that did this to Xander and your girlfriend is a demonic spirit that infected a human being and turned it into a real monster. The last time this thing got loose on Earth, the Titans still ruled the planet and they were barely able to wipe the bugs out.”
He pushed off Chloe’s car and looked up to meet Clark’s eyes. “You guys can’t stop this thing. Not without him,” he nodded at Xander. “And thunder boy there is out for the count. The bug poisoned him and the girl. The venom’s demonic in origin. It causes complete paralysis as long as the victim is in pain, but if the pain lessens or stops, so do their hearts. That’s why the hospital is a bad idea.”
“So how do we save Xander and Midori?” Willow asked, the hard edge of anger creeping into her voice.
“You don’t,” he said flatly, his voice completely unsympathetic. “The only cure for the poison is killing the bug, and I already told you… that’s impossible. Thor’s hammer there is the only weapon on Earth capable of killing this thing and in the last two-thousand years only one person has been born on this rock has been able to wield it.”
“So what’s your solution then?” Jonathan Kent demanded. “If Xander’s the only one who can stop these monsters, what can you do?”
“Me? Not a damn thing,” Whistler admitted quickly. “My bosses, however, are willing to do a temporal fold and undo this completely. They’ll change the chain of events that led up to this moment and none of this will have ever happened.”
“What’s the catch?” Chloe demanded quickly.
“Do you even need to ask?” Willow scoffed at the question. “Xander either ceases to exist or at least never becomes Thor’s heir and the Powers that Be win by default. Am I right?”
The demon nodded. “At this point Xander and Midori are dead either way. If you three agree, we change the past and the rest of humanity doesn’t have to die with them.”
A surge of defiant anger seemed to explode in Clark’s chest. This demonic piece of crap wanted them to sacrifice Xander and Midori, both of whom were still alive, without any proof of what he was saying at all. With a supreme effort, he turned and walked over to his father, putting Midori’s small frail form into Jonathan’s capable arms before turning back to the demon. “You expect us to just take your word on all of that?” he demanded harshly.
“If you don’t believe me, ask them,” Whistler gestured off to the side where two other figures abruptly appeared.
Standing to one side was the tall, heavily muscled form of Odin in his imposing Viking armor. Next to Odin stood a second, equally imposing man that none of the group had ever seen before. The man had thick, black hair cut in the classic style of a Roman General and dark piercing eyes. He was broad shouldered, muscular and lean and carried himself in the manner of a professional soldier. He wore a simple black T-shirt that showed off his physique to good effect and faded blue jeans with what appeared to be some sort of combat boots.
“Lord Odin,” Chloe said, her voice holding overtones of deep respect or possibly even awe. “I though the gods couldn’t intervene in our lives anymore…”
“We cannot,” the All-father replied grimly. “The Powers, however, were feeling magnanimous and have allowed us to be present and insure that the proper forms are obeyed in achieving their victory.”
The Viking God’s companion spoke up, crossing his arms over his chest impassively. “We cannot interfere or attempt to influence you beyond answering your questions,” he said bluntly. “Since we have not had the pleasure of meeting before today, I am Ares, God of War and Violence.” He fixed Clark with an odd look and gave the boy a half-smile.
“Is the demon telling the truth?” Clark asked quickly, cutting straight to the point.
“Yes and no,” Odin answered, keeping his face cautiously neutral. “He has been careful not to lie to you in anything that he’s said, but he also has not told you the whole truth either.”
“Is there another way to stop this monster?” Chloe asked, fast on the heels of Odin’s answer. “Or is sacrificing Xander and Midori really humanity’s only hope?”
“Mjolnir is the only weapon on Earth capable of killing the creature, that much is true,” Ares replied, “however, there is another choice. Only the progenitor bug and his Queen are nearly invulnerable to harm. Without Mjolnir, you could try to contain the threat by destroying their spawn, but it is unlikely you would accomplish more than prolonging the end of human civilization.”
“Is Xander really the only one who can wield Mjolnir?” Clark asked softly, his mind taking an odd turn in the conversation.
“He may very well be,” Odin said without hesitating, “Only the Creator could know for certain though. However, no man born of this world in the past two-thousand years could wield it, save Xander. Only a mortal child born of mortal parents and descended from the line of a powerful god could hope to lift the weapon from where it has fallen.”
Something in the way he said the words ‘no man born of this world’ hit Clark hard. He knew that he hadn’t been born of this world, but surely he didn’t fit the rest of the bill. Did the Kryptonians even have gods for him to have descended from?
“Even if you could find someone to wield the hammer,” Ares continued, his eyes never leaving Clark. “The creature’s poison is dangerous and a normal human being like Midori would be affected instantly. Even someone of Asgardian or Olympian descent could be affected if enough of the poison were injected.
“*Clark?*” the young man heard Chloe’s voice whisper in his head and turned to face her with a jerk. “*I don’t think the Powers that Be know about you. I think that’s why Odin and Ares are being so particular about what they say and how they say it.*”
A tight grin slipped over Clark’s face and he turned to glance at Ares, only to be met with a knowing look and an ever-so-subtle inclination of the god’s head.
Completely misjudging the momentary silence, Whistler spoke up again. “So does that set your minds at ease?” he asked with a smug grin.
Seeing Clark’s attention go to Mjolnir, Willow caught on and asked, “Were the Powers that be behind this?” The question caught the demon flat-footed and he looked at her in surprise, not noticing that Clark was walking over to where the hammer had fallen.
“I already…” the demon began.
“Yes, they were,” Ares cut in abruptly, ignoring Whistler completely. “One of their emissaries gave the spell that would loose the creature to one of Xander’s many enemies. They arranged the possible extinction of the entire human race in an effort to secure their fading powerbase.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that the Powers that Be are the only ones who can undo what was done,” Whistler countered flatly. “All’s fair in love and war… and this is a war.”
“Yes, it is,” Odin agreed grimly, “and this is a battle that you just lost.”
The demon whipped his attention around in time to see Clark lift Mjolnir from the ground with no more effort than a normal man lifting a rubber mallet.
“Behold Kal-El of Krypton,” Ares announced with booming pride in his voice, “last scion of the House of El, descended in ancient times from the sun-god Rao himself.” He grinned broadly, “Rao’s blood may have been diluted by a few thousand generations of mortal Kryptonians, but it’s still there and still powerful.”
Whistler’s face went completely white as Kal-El slung the weapon casually over one shoulder and walked toward him. The look of cold, impersonal anger on the boy’s face was terrifying to behold.
“You tell your bosses that we’ll clean up their little mess this time,” Clark said bluntly, “but the next emissary they send to negotiate with us had better be expendable, because he may not come back to them in one piece.”
He turned to thank Odin and Ares only to find that they had already vanished, so Clark looked to Chloe and Willow instead. “Let’s get Midori and Xander inside, then we need to find this bug and kill it,” he suggested warmly.
“If you go after that monster and fail, the moment the last of you five die, we’ll fold time and make sure none of you were ever born,” Whistler blustered threateningly.
“Good,” Willow said, using her powers to lift Xander off the ground on a cushion of shadowy energy. “Then we have nothing to lose if we fail.”
* * * * *
Jonathan watched quietly as Willow and Chloe worked at bandaging up Midori’s arm and Xander’s side with Martha’s help. They hoped that if the two wounded teens starting bleeding in earnest when the poison wore off, the bandages would at least buy enough time to get them to the hospital alive. His son, meanwhile, stood by the door staring out into the yard as he struggled to deal with this latest turn of events. He glanced at Martha and met the helpless look in her eyes with a frown. He, too, felt utterly helpless at the moment, floundering around as far out of his depth as it was possible to get.
The fate of the world and his family hinged on Clark, Chloe and Willow being able to do what Xander couldn’t. It wasn’t exactly a situation most parents were prepared to deal with and Jonathan was no exception. He just knew that somehow he had to try and help, even if only amounted to trying to encourage the three teens. He moved toward the young man he had worked so hard to raise right and protect from the ugliness of the world and wondered for a moment at how to say what he needed to say.
“Clark,” he began softly, putting a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder, “son…”
“It’s Greg Arkin, dad,” the teen said, cutting off his father abruptly. “Chloe told me that Greg was the one who did this to Xander and Midori. He was the one who tried to kill Whitney too, I’m sure of it.” He paused letting his father absorb the words. “I knew him, dad. I played together with him and Pete when we were kids. He was a good person… and now I have to kill him to save Xander and Midori and the rest of the world. I don’t know if I can do this.”
“When the time comes, you’ll be able to do what you have to do, Clark,” he said reassuringly. “I don’t doubt that for even a second. You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, son, and I couldn’t be more proud of the young man you’ve become. You’ll know what you have to do and you won’t hesitate to do it. I just wish that you didn’t have to be the one to bear this burden…”
“I hope you’re right, dad,” Clark said softly.
“If it helps at all, this thing isn’t the Greg that you knew,” Willow offered as she and Chloe came over to join the two men, leaving Martha to keep an eye on their injured friends. “I’ve read books about this sort of demonic transformation. It’s how vampires were created and in the process the demon evicts the soul and takes over the body. It gets access to everything Greg knew and everything Greg was… but it’s not actually Greg anymore. It’s just a monster using his body. The boy you knew died when it turned into that… thing.”
After a momentary pause, Chloe spoke up. “So where do we start looking for it,” she asked, being careful not to refer to the creature by name.
“We don’t,” Clark replied stoically. “You two are staying here with Xander and Midori. I’m going after him alone.”
“Like hell you are,” the blonde countered hotly. “You can’t do this alone, Clark. Xander tried to handle this by himself and look where it got him.”
“And I can’t risk you or Willow ending up like Midori or worse,” he snapped back angrily. “I won’t take that chance.”
“Yes, you will,” Willow said bluntly. “We’re a team, mister, and you better start getting that through your head. Xander didn’t try to stop you and Midori in LA yesterday and no amount of arguing about it is going to change our minds today.”
“Besides,” Chloe added, “I saw the footage of the battle in LA and Xander’s a much better fighter than you Clark. If this thing did that to him, you won’t stand a chance by yourself. Willow and I can use our powers to help you win the fight.”
Jonathan stiffened as Clark turned toward him, looking for support. He understood what his son felt and knew why he didn’t want them in harm’s way, but the older man also knew that the girls were right. “I’m sorry, Clark,” he said reluctantly, “but this is too important to take chances on by going alone. The three of you working together is our best hope for success.”
Clark sighed loudly and Jonathan could tell that his son knew they were right, even if he really didn’t want to admit it. “Alright,” he conceded finally, sticking a hand in one of his jacket pockets and withdrawing a pair of blue gloves that he quickly pulled on. “If we’re going to do this as a team, I guess we should do it in costume.”
Jonathan watched in surprise as Clark touched the back of one glove and his clothing abruptly began to change. In just a few seconds, he was clad in the two-tone blue body suit that he’d been wearing in LA, complete with the dark-red, diamond-like shield with the letter ‘S’ in it. To his even greater shock, in the time he’d watched his son’s clothing turn into his costume, Chloe’s outfit had turned into the form-fitting white leather she’d been wearing the day before, only with the addition of a silver mask that resembled a stylized owl.
Chloe’s costume stood in stark contrast to the transformation that Willow’s clothing had undergone as well. The redhead was garbed in a black body-suit and billowing, hooded, black cloak. Once she pulled the hood up, her face was hidden in the shadows it created. Only her eyes were visible in the upper half of her face, with everything else above her mouth completely obscured by an impenetrable darkness. It, like the masks Chloe and Clark were wearing, made her completely unrecognizable. At least that was one thing he didn’t need to worry about. Their identities were well guarded.
“So… do you two have codenames already figured out or are we making it up as we go like we did in LA yesterday” Clark asked with a smirk.
“Call me Oracle,” Chloe answered with a grin.
“And I’m Raven,” Willow added as Superman bent down and retrieved Mjolnir from where he’d laid it on the floor.
“Alright then,” the young man said with a nod, “I’ve got a couple of ideas where he might be… so let’s go bug hunting.”
* * * * *
Greg stumbled as he landed from the leap that had carried him to his final destination in his flight from the Kent farm. He hurt in ways that he wouldn’t have thought were possible. Every movement, every jarring, jostling step sent pain radiating through his wounds. The ichor oozing from his chest and arm had begun to coagulate and harden into a thin shell that would protect the injuries as the chitin healed, but his severed stinger was another story entirely.
The ichor was going to be able to seal off the amputated limb. There was nothing for it to adhere to so that it could harden. Even if there was, he wasn’t sure if such a wound would ever really heal on its own. His species wasn’t usually permitted a chance to recover from such serious injuries. In a proper colony-hive a crippled drone or soldier would be eaten by the Queen or her young rather than being given a chance to recover. It was simply their way. Any individual who was incapable of doing its part in support of the colony, whether through aged infirmity or injury, was devoured by the rest of the colony. It kept their species strong.
Unfortunately, there was no Queen and no colony-hive yet, which meant that he needed a way to treat the wound before he bled to death. He staggered into his mother’s house, hoping that no one had noticed his arrival or his true form. In his current state, he was utterly incapable of maintaining his human appearance, so he didn’t really have any choice about how he looked. He would simply have to kill anyone who came to investigate.
He made his way to the kitchen quickly and turned on the stove top to its highest setting. The gas flames would get hot enough to sear the exposed tissue and stop the flow of precious ichor or, rather, he hoped they would. Otherwise it was going to hurt a hell of a lot and benefit him not at all. He watched the blue flames for several moments as they burned bright and hot before thrusting the severed end of his stinger-less limb into the fire.
An inhuman squeal of pain and rage was ripped from his throat by the searing agony. Without his armor-like carapace of chitin to protect it, the softer tissue was incredibly vulnerable and Greg actually swooned from the combination of the excruciating, burning torment and the stench of charring meat. He staggered back, withdrawing his severed, and now burned, stump from the hot flames. Turning, he angrily slammed the fist of his uninjured arm into the stainless steel door of the refrigerator, driving his hand clear through the metal and into the interior of the appliance.
As the intense pain of cauterization rapidly faded back to the duller, more tolerable pain to which he was quickly growing accustomed, he examined the end of his stump. The blackened and charred flesh was almost sickening to behold, but at least it wasn’t bleeding anymore. He pulled his hand out of the wreckage of the fridge and admired the damage he’d done with relish. It felt good to just indulge in the occasional moment of wanton destruction.
With the immediate threat to his life removed, Greg turned his thoughts back to his real priority. His encounter with Thor had nearly gotten him killed, and if he died now, before he could change Lana and then impregnate the Queen she became, his species would die with him. The truth was that Smallville had become entirely too dangerous now. He had to move quickly to make sure that his species survived, even if he did not. Even so, he knew that he would need some sort of plan to accomplish that.
Given the lack of pursuit by his would-be executioner, he was fairly sure that Xander hadn’t been able to recognize him in his true form, which still gave him the advantage of being able to hide from those who might be able to kill him. Or at least it might, if he could resume his human form, which he could only hope was still possible.
Concentrating, he tried it, forcing his battered and abused body to morph back into his human shape. After a few moments, his efforts bore fruit and he managed to change back most of the way. The injured areas of his forearm and chest remained the greenish-black color of his chitin and were spider-webbed with dark black lines of dried ichor. It wasn’t perfect, but as long he put on a long sleeve shirt, it would work. Now he just needed to find Lana and take her by force.
As he walked up the stairs to put on another set of human clothing he considered the issue carefully. Lana would probably feel obligated to be at the hospital with Whitney, whether she really wanted to or not, presuming the quarterback hadn’t been released yet. He would have to be careful to avoid notice if he was going to take her from there. It was a very public place and revealing himself there might well attract Xander’s attention, which seemed like a very bad idea.
Of course, he was fairly certain that it was doable, if he approached it properly. He might even be able to kill Whitney in the process if he was lucky. It would certainly be worth the effort and, with a little luck, by the time his enemy got there, he’d be long gone with his Queen-to-be.